America Fast Forward gets a push by Times columnist and CNBC

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is in Washington D.C. today to push the 30/10 Initiative, which is getting a new name for its national push: America Fast Forward. L.A. Times columnist Tim Rutten uses the occasion to praise the plan to use federal financing to accelerate the construction of Measure R transit projects.


From the start, 30/10 won the support of the Obama administration and most of the key congressional Democrats involved in making transportation policy, particularly Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif). The midterm elections, however, not only brought the Republicans to power in the House but also changed the conceptual landscape when it comes to federal spending initiatives: Anything resembling an earmark is beyond the pale; any new spending is suspect.

Like most of the country’s mayors, Villaraigosa is keenly aware of local government’s simultaneous need to create jobs and invest in future growth. He has used that shared sentiment — along with President Obama’s observation that 30/10 provides a national template — to build a bipartisan coalition behind America Fast Forward. In an era when bipartisanship is notoriously elusive, this proposal already has been endorsed by both Thomas J. Donohue, president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO.

We’ll have more on Villaraigosa’s day in D.C. later.

In addition, CNBC business reporter Erin Burnett sat down with Russell Goldsmith, CEO of Los Angeles-based City National Bank and chair of the Los Angeles Coalition for the Economy & Jobs. The latter organization was formed by leaders of business, labor, academia and non-profits; it has been a strong voice of support of the 30/10 Initiative and America Fast Forward.

The portion discussing America Fast Forward begins at about the 3:20 mark of the video.

Other Board actions taken today

In their meeting today, the Metro Board also took action on a three other items of interest:

•(Item 21) The Board approved a report explaining that the 30/10 Initiative will be called America Fast Forward at a national level. The 30/10 Initiative was created to change federal laws so that federal loans and other financing can be used to accelerate the construction of Measure R projects. The idea is that America Fast Forward better reflects that such changes in the law could also help many other transit agencies in the United States. The changes are sought as part of the next federal transportation bill, which Congress could begin debating this summer.

Here are recent posts about how America Fast Forward could help build transit in Salt Lake City and Denver. We’ll soon be writing about other cities and regions that could benefit.

•(Item 12) The Board approved a $2.26 million contract with HDR Engineering to launch environmental studies of the proposed downtown Los Angeles Streetcar project. The studies are being paid for by the city of Los Angeles and the Community Redevelopment Agency; Metro is providing oversight and technical expertise. Starting the environmental studies will later allow the city to seek federal funds to help build the project. The remaining funds would need to come from the city — for example, downtown residents could vote to tax themselves. That was the strategy used in Portland, Ore., to great success. Here is the streetcar project’s website.

•(Item 12) The Board also approved a $4.77 million contract with STV/PB-ConnectLAX Joint Venture to begin environmental studies of a project to provide some type of transit between Los Angeles International Airport and the new Aviation/Century stop for the Crenshaw/LAX and Green lines. See yesterday’s post for more info.

Bus service changes for June approved by Metro Board

The Metro Board of Directors voted 7 to 6 on Thursday morning to approve changes to Metro bus service, including the cutting and shortening of some lines. The changes are scheduled to go into effect June 26.

The changes amount to about 300,000 hours of service annually — about 100,000 hours less than originally proposed by Metro staff earlier this year. Metro CEO Art Leahy told the Board of Directors that the cuts will help remove low ridership lines and duplicative service from the Metro bus system and that the money saved — about $32 million annually — will help produce a balanced budget for Metro.

Nine million of those dollars will go back into the bus system. Leahy said that the money will also allow him to reallocate 212 Metro employees to improve the cleanliness and maintenance of buses and to work on a real-time system to improve on-time performance.

The yes votes were by the following Board members: Pam O’Connor, Zev Yarolsavsky, Ara Najarian, Mike Antonovich, Don Knabe, Diane DuBois and John Fasana.

The no votes were by the following Board members: Antonio Villaraigosa, Richard Katz, Mark Ridley-Thomas, Mel Wilson, Jose Huizar and Gloria Molina.

“I’m not convinced that all this does is consolidate and make [the bus system] more efficient,” said Villaraigosa. “I can’t find myself being convinced of that argument.”

Lines impacted include the 26, 71, 94, 96, 155, 217, 230, 247, 254, 445, 450x, 485, 577, 634, 751, 757, 760 and 794. Some lines will be shortened, some expanded and some will not run on some times or days. Please see the full list of changes beginning on page 15 of this Metro staff report. In addition, the Board approved a number of bus service changes that will go into effect 90 days after the Expo Line light rail opens; those changes are on page 17 of the staff report.

The lines that will be entirely discontinued are the 26, 247, 445 and the 634. Existing bus service will replace those lines and/or Metro will modify existing service to replace those lines.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this post erroneously stated that the 757 Rapid Bus on Western Avenue will be discontinued. It will continue service on weekdays and articulated bus service on Western will be bulked up.

In discussion, Supervisor Gloria Molina asked Leahy if the service changes were motivated by cost savings alone — i.e. was he looking to carve a particular dollar amount from the Metro budget. Leahy answered no, that the changes were motivated by removing low-ridership lines and duplicative service so that resources could be used to improve the rest of the system.

The Board also approved a motion asking for a report on service changes by Metro and other local transit agencies since 1997. In addition, the motion asked Metro staff to develop a policy on how savings from service reductions are reinvested and criteria for ensuring continued service in the future to “regionally significant destinations.” The motion was by Mayor Villaraigosa, Supervisor Molina and Mel Wilson, a city of Los Angeles appointee to the Board.

Metro staff will provide that information to the Board next month, giving them the chance to possibly reconsider the service changes if they find the information to be troubling or problematic.

Several dozen members of the public testified to the Board of Directors, including many members of the Bus Riders Union. Many protested that the changes will inconvenience them and make it more difficult to reach their jobs.

Over the past three months, Metro held six public hearings about the service cuts with more than 300 people testifying. The proposed changes were also approved by the five community-based Service Councils that advise Metro staff on bus service in different parts of L.A. County.

Metro Board asks for master plan for Union Station and bids for 700 new buses

Among the items approved thus far by the Metro Board of Directors at their meeting on Thursday:

•(Item 16) A motion by Board Members Antonio Villaraigosa, Gloria Molina and Richard Katz asking Metro CEO Art Leahy to prepare a master plan for Union Station, which Metro is in the process of purchasing. The motion asks Metro to conduct a design competition for architecture firms to “produce conceptual level design and visioning for a world-class Union Station inter-modal station.”

•(Item 10) The Board approved soliciting bids for 700 new compressed natural gas buses to replace 700 40-foot buses that are due to be retired from service. A news release on this item is posted after the jump. In addition, the Board approved a motion by Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael Antonovich create a pilot program to buy 30 zero-emission or super low emission buses.

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Today's Board of Directors meeting is underway

Good morning, Source readers.

The Metro Board of Directors meeting started a few minutes ago. As many of you know, the big item on today’s agenda is a vote on proposed bus service changes to take effect in June.

If you would like more information and background on the proposed changes, here is a memo to the Board of Directors from Metro chief operations officer Lonnie Mitchell.

Study on better connecting LAX to Metro Rail to be considered by Metro Board

[mappress mapid="9"]

It’s one of those planning questions that’s only — and I say ‘only’ sarcastically — several decades old: how to improve mass transit to Los Angeles International Airport?

A study to answer that question may soon be underway. The Metro Board of Directors on Thursday is scheduled to vote on a contract of about $4.7 million to STV/PB-ConnectLAX Joint Venture to conduct environmental studies for a transit project to connect the Green Line and Crenshaw/LAX Line to the terminals at LAX.

As the Metro staff report states, some of the alternatives to be considered — but not limited to — include light rail, bus rapid transit and an automated people mover. The city of Los Angeles agency that runs LAX is already studying a people mover as part of its airport modernization plans.

The Crenshaw/LAX light rail line will stop at Aviation and Century boulevards, to the east of the airport grounds (see the above map). It’s closer to LAX than the current Green Line Aviation/LAX station, but still about 1.8 miles to the Tom Bradley International Terminal. The Crenshaw/LAX Line will also allow westbound Green Line trains from Norwalk to turn north and continue to the Aviation/Century station on the new Crenshaw tracks.

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Metro officials discuss bus service changes

The Metro Board of Directors is scheduled to vote Thursday on proposed bus service changes that would take effect in June.

On Tuesday evening, KCRW’s “Which Way L.A.?” featured a lengthy segment on the bus changes. Among the guests was Conan Cheung, who manages service planning and scheduling; Esperanza Martinez, a lead organizer with the Bus Riders Union, and; Brian Taylor, the Director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at UCLA. Listen here.

In addition, Metro CEO Art Leahy wrote an op-ed piece that ran in the Daily News on Tuesday that puts the service changes he proposed in the context of the changing transit scene in Los Angeles County. Excerpt:

In approving Measure R, Angelenos voted with their pocketbooks for a new more balanced transit system that would move people cheaper and often faster than they could slog through congested streets and freeways. They voted to retain a solid bus program and fare subsidies, but they also voted for a massive expansion of rail. We need both.

It’s also time to recognize Metro is no longer the only game in town. Back in the 1980s, Metro buses carried about 85 percent of all transit users in the county. Today that percentage has shrunk to 61 percent thanks to more than 200 percent growth in service operated by the municipal bus operators plus the exponential growth of Metro Rail and the Metrolink commuter rail network.

There’s too much duplication of service and, as a consequence, Metro buses today overall are running less than half full.

That doesn’t mean the pendulum has swung back to rail. It means we must finally recognize the dynamics of transit here are changing. Rather than duplicating bus and rail routes and wasting scarce public resources, we must better integrate the various public transit services. And there should be an emphasis on quality not just quantity. Buses and trains should arrive on time and vehicles and stations should be clean. As a former bus operator, I know how important this is to our customers.

The Board of Directors meeting begins at 9 a.m. Thursday at Metro headquarters adjacent to Union Station. The Source will provide live coverage of the meeting and the discussion and vote on the service changes.

Metro's highway program ramps up for big year

Expanding the network of HOV lanes in L.A. County is a big part of Metro's highway program.

Metro issued a long news release today about its highway program — specifically the many projects either underway or in the planning stage.

As the release states, Metro’s highway program is often overlooked because of the agency’s transit programs. But the highway program is important. The most recent Census Bureau numbers show that almost 84 percent of workers in Los Angeles County drive to work.

Future transit projects may reduce that statistic. In the meantime, however, it also appears likely that given the sprawling nature of the county, its jobs and the affordability of vehicles and gas, people aren’t going to stop driving any time soon.

Here’s the release:

While public attention remains fixed on the dozen bus and rail projects mandated by L.A. County voters with the passage of Measure R, the half cent sales tax for transportation, Metro is working feverishly on a parallel track to accelerate its highway program.

This year that work will pay off as the agency launches an astonishing 18 new projects worth nearly $1.4 billion.

The goals are lofty but realistic, said Doug Failing, executive director of highway programs who joined Metro in 2009 following 30 years at Caltrans, most of the last decade as L.A./Ventura counties district director.

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Next round of Westside Subway Extension meetings begin tonight, including live webcast

From the project’s web page at

Metro is continuing work on the Final EIS/EIR for the Westside Subway Extension. Please join us for the second round of community update meetings for this last planning phase of the project.  At these meetings, Metro will provide feedback from the January community meetings, updates on the geotechnical investigations, status of the Station Area Advisory Groups, latest information about the project cost estimates and the status of the Century City station. Whether or not you have followed the project so far, you are encouraged to provide input on Metro’s progress with the Westside Subway Extension at any of these upcoming meetings!

Agenda (content at all meetings will be identical)
6:00 – 6:15PM
: Open House
6:15 – 7:00PM: Presentation
7:00 – 8:00PM: Public Comment

Monday, March 21
LACMA West – Terrace Room, 5th Floor
5905 Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90036
Served by Metro Lines 20, 720, 217 & 780

Validated vehicle parking is available in the Museum’s 6th Street underground garage.  Enter from 6th and Ogden.

Spanish & Korean translation will be provided.

For added convenience, we will offer a live webcast of this meeting that you can view from any computer simply by going to

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America Fast Forward and FrontLines: Could 30/10 work for Salt Lake City?

Existing transit network with planned extensions in dark blue and red.

Existing Utah Transit Authority transit network with planned extensions in dark blue and red.

This is the second story in our series examining how L.A. County’s 30/10 financing model could help other cities around the country.

On the eve of the 21st Century, the citizens of Salt Lake City cut the ribbon on their first light rail project, a 15-mile line connecting downtown to the city of Sandy to the south. The Salt Lake metro area was already booming and the 2002 Winter Olympics were soon coming to town.

From 2000 to 2009 the population of Salt Lake County grew over 15 percent and its southern neighbor Utah County grew a whopping 48 percent. Compare those to 3.4 percent for Los Angeles County. And despite the national economic downturn, New Geography notes, “one of the country’s largest downtown development projects is taking shape in Salt Lake City. The city’s center displays a landscape of cranes, cement-mixers and hard-hats — something all too rare in these tough times.”

The side effect of that growth — representing an additional 320,000 residents — is more people traveling around the region and more air pollution. Los Angeles and Salt Lake City are geographically kindred spirits. Both are surrounded by majestic, but smog-trapping mountains, and it usually takes a good storm to clean the air.

A light rail train bound for Sandy in the Salt Lake City area. Photo by vxla, via Flickr.

By 2006, residents had embraced the light rail line to the tune of 40,000 daily boardings. So, rather than tie their collective fate to ever-crowding freeways, residents voted that year to increase their local sales tax to pay for a dramatic expansion of commuter and light rail in the region.

FrontLines 2015, as the project is known, entails five new lines — four are light rail and one commuter rail — covering 70 miles. The four light rail lines are supposed to open by 2015 and two could debut as early as this August. Even when 2015 rolls around, the Utah Transit Authority (UTA) won’t be done with its building program.

According to Gerry Carpenter, UTA Media Relations officer, once the initial commuter and light rail system is in place, the key will be increasing connections from homes and jobs to train stations. The UTA already has a list of bus rapid transit and streetcar projects, as well as bus enhancements, that it would like to roll out. Rough estimates suggest those additional 20 or so projects could cost a total of $3 billion.

The good news for the UTA is that the 2006 sales tax increase does not sunset (by contrast, the Measure R sales tax increase approved by voters here is scheduled to expire in July 2039). However, a substantial portion of that revenue source will be tied up in paying for FrontLines 2015.

But what if there were a way to borrow cheaply against those future revenues, so that those crucial projects could move forward right away? So that Utahans can immediately begin to reap the benefits of a clean and convenient transit system serving the all reaches of the Salt Lake metro area.


Light rail in the Salt Lake City basin. Photo by Nancy White, via Flickr.

That’s basically the essence of Los Angeles County’s 30/10 Program and its national counterpart, America Fast Forward: reward those cities that have taxed themselves by giving them expanded access to federal loan programs. Such loans make it possible for local areas to get the money they need to build now — before construction costs increase — and then use the sales tax revenues to pay off the loans over time.

Already, Salt Lake and Utah County residents are leading the way on local transportation investment, literally remaking a metro area that like many others in the Western U.S. has seen dramatic growth — but growth tied to the automobile. As Congress considers ways to finance the next six-year surface transportation bill that could make America Fast Forward possible, here’s hoping that legislators get inspired by the innovative solutions that local governments are spearheading.

Previously in this series: Denver’s efforts to rapidly add light rail, commuter rail and busways.